Choosing the Right Barbell: A Guide for Different Types of Lifts

Lifter getting ready to use the Colorado Bar

They may look similar, but all barbells are not for all kinds of lifts. Try to do a snatch with a squat bar or a heavy bench press with a super spinny weightlifting barbell, and you’ll immediately see why. (Actually, no, please don't try that.)

There are four main styles of barbells: powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, mixed-use, and specialty. These each come with different characteristics ideal for different kinds of lifts: 

  • Sleeve construction refers to how the sleeves are built and how they rotate. Olympic weightlifting benefits from a faster, smooth spin (bearing sleeves). Powerlifting bars feature slower-rotating bushing sleeves. Functional fitness/X-fit's best fit is a mixed-use bar that can do it all. 
  • Bearing sleeves are typically used for faster sleeve turnover. Bearings essentially roll around the sleeve. There are three different types of bearings: needle bearings, ball bearings, and inner race needle bearings.  
  • Bushing sleeves no moving parts inside. There is friction between the surface of the bushing and the surface of the shaft, so it doesn’t rotate as freely as a bearing. You can find three types of bushing sleeves: bronze bushings, composite bushings, and brass bushings. 
  • Knurling is the crosshatch pattern on the shaft that increases the grip of your hands on the bar.
  • Knurl markings are small, smooth marks in the knurling on a bar to help lifters set up properly for a lift and provide a visual for even hand placement. 
  • Not sure what another term means? Check out our Strength Sports Dictionary.

Here’s a quick rundown of what distinguishes each category to help you pick the best bar for your goals.  

Powerlifting Bars 

Double Black Diamond Power Bar

Uses: Primarily to squat, bench press, and deadlift (although some powerlifters/associations use specialty bars for squats and deadlifts) 

Weight: 20kg (44.1lbs) 

Standard diameter: 28-29mm  

Sleeve construction: Bushing. A bushing is a metal sleeve with no moving parts inside. It’s ideal for slower, strength-focused lifts.  

Knurl marks: International Powerlifting Federation standard distance (32” apart)  

Center knurling: Yes, to help hold it in place during back squats  

Best powerlifting bars:  


Olympic Weightlifting Bars 

Alpine Bar

Uses: Primarily to snatch and clean and jerk 

Weight: 20kg (44.1lbs) for men and 15kg (33.1lbs) for women  

Standard diameter: 28mm for men and 25mm for women  

Sleeve construction: Bearing. Bearings are typically used for faster sleeve turnover. Bearings essentially roll around the sleeve.  

Knurl marks: International Weightlifting Federation standard distance (36” apart)  

Center knurling: Yes (passive) for men and no for women 

Best weightlifting bars:  


Mixed-Use Bars  

Lifter loading the Colorado Bar

Uses: Functional fitness exercises, X-fit, weightlifting, powerlifting. These bars can do everything.  

Weight: General mixed use: 20kg (44.1lbs). For X-fit training: 20kg (44.1lbs) for men and 15kg (33.1lbs) for women  

Standard diameter: 28-29" for men and 25” for women 

Sleeve construction: Hybrid, ball-bearing, or composite bushing 

Knurl marks: Dual knurling marks (both IPF and IWF)  

Center knurling: No 

Best mixed-use bars:  


Specialty Bars 

Lifter using a Safety Squat Bar

Uses: Various uses, depending on the bar. Specialty bars include:  

The weight, diameter, sleeves, knurl marks, and center knurling varies by bar.

Best specialty bars: